The Flames are sitting in the top spot in the Pacific Division at 46-20-9 with seven games to go in their season. A lot is seemingly settled with the team but here are seven things to watch for as they close out the regular season!
1. Can Jacob Markstrom still tie Miikka Kiprusoff?
It seemed like a foregone conclusion earlier in the year that Markstrom would tie or surpass Kipper’s franchise record 10 shutouts from the 2005-06 season but he is still stuck at nine. Markstrom had five shutouts in the first 13 games of the season and hit #9 back on March 12 versus Detroit. Since then he has played 14 times but hasn’t been able to hit #10. You would also have to think that Dan Vladar will get a few more starts to close things out, especially if the Flames manage to clinch the division in the next week or so.
2. How High can the Top Line go?
Johnny Gaudreau has already crushed things this year by hitting 105 points and being in the Hart Trophy conversation but we will see if Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm can hit some new highs as well. Tkachuk and Lindholm both have 39 goals so we can be pretty confident that they’ll hit 40 and become the first Flames player since Jarome Iginla reached that mark in 2010-11.
For Tkachuk the race to 100 points is also winding down as he sits at 96 points, needing just four more in seven games. Lindholm will be looking to end up in the 80 point range for the first time in his career as well as he sits at 78 points which is currently tying his career high from 2018-19.
Another thing to watch for Gaudreau will be his even strength total as he currently sits at 83 which is the 2nd most in a single season by a player since 1995-96 with Connor McDavid having 84 in 2017-18. He is also chasing the best +/- in a season since Wayne Gretzky in 1986-87.
3. Defensive Points Race?
Only four Flames defensemen have hit the 50 point plateau since the 2004 lockout and they were the following: Mark Giordano x2 (2016,2019), Dion Phaneuf (2007, 2008), Dennis Wideman (2015), and Dougie Hamilton (2017).
Rasmus Andersson looks poised to add to that group, sitting at 46 points thus far. Noah Hanifin isn’t far behind at 42 and isn’t totally out of the conversation considering he has eight points in the last five games.
4. Line Combinations
The Flames have played around with the forward groupings a bit over the last few weeks and we will be watching to see if that continues. While the top line has been static all year long, the other three forward lines have been changing on a fairly regular basis. You would have to imagine that Darryl Sutter is interested in gauging different combinations should they be required in the postseason as injuries and illnesses hit.
One player that I’m particularly interested in watching will be Calle Jarnkrok’s who has had a bit of a tumultuous time since joining the Flames after coming down with an illness and having just two assists in ten games. Calgary has primarily tried him at center but he has played wing most of the last two seasons, so we could see him shifted back there as well.
5. Rest versus Rust?
It’s been said multiple times over the last month or so, but there is a legitimate conversation heading into these final seven games about how much the team should be resting their veterans heading into the postseason. In 2018-19 the Flames rested a number of guys down the stretch and somewhat limped into the playoffs after securing the top seed, and we saw how that went. With Calgary likely being clear of Edmonton with 3-4 games to go, do we see some guys sit, or does Sutter keep things rolling right into the postseason.
Calgary is currently having their 2nd best season in franchise history by points percentage and needs seven points in their final seven games to surpass the 2018-19 team for official 2nd spot. Calgary also needs just two road victories to set a new franchise record for most wins in a single season on the road. They currently sit at 23 with the record being 24 from 2018-19 and luckily five of the final seven are on the road.
With the team closing in on clinching all they can, should we expect to see any other prospects make their season debuts with the club? Connor Mackey was called up a few weeks ago and hasn’t returned to Stockton while Adam Ruzicka and Juuso Valimaki have bounced up and down as emergency recalls, routinely being papered between the two teams. With the Stockton Heat also about to clinch their division and the Heat having a first round playoff bye if they do, it does feel like a few guys could get rewarded with a few NHL games.
Calgary currently has the cap space to make recalls and there is no longer a 23 man roster limit after the trade deadline. Mackey seems to have been the only “regular” recall of the four they are allowed, but that isn’t entirely clear. Matthew Phillips has 64 points this year and should jump to the top of the list for a late season look. Also in that conversation are outstanding rookies in Jakob Pelletier and Dustin Wolf. It would be particularly fun to watch Wolf make his first NHL start as he’s crushed the AHL this year. Glenn Gawdin and Connor Zary could also be in that conversation too. The key for this is not messing with Stockton’s chemistry as they also gear up for a run at the Calder Cup.
7. Awards Watch
Here are the Flames that could factor into the NHL Awards conversation, I might have missed a few so don’t yell at me:
Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player):
- Johnny Gaudreau (4th best odds)
Art Ross Trophy (Most Points):
- Johnny Gaudreau (4th in Scoring)
Vezina Trophy (Top Goaltender)
- Jacob Markstrom (3rd best odds)
William M Jennings Award (Goalie of Team with Lowest GA/GP)
- Jacob Markstrom/Flames (3rd lowest GA/GP)
Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward)
- Elias Lindholm
- Matthew Tkachuk
Jack Adams Award (Top NHL Coach)
- Darryl Sutter (Favourite)
Jim Gregory Award (GM of the Year)
- Brad Treliving (Maybe?)
The 2021-22 Flames have exceeded our expectations by all metrics and that is reflected in the number of individuals that could be up for awards. We will see if they win some or any when the awards ceremony rolls around in early July but they can make their final cases in these seven games.
What else should we be watching for in the final seven games of the season? Let us know in the comments!